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Posted at 11:30 AM ET, 03/10/2009

The Interview (Pt. 2): David Horsey of the (RIP?) 'Seattle Post-Intelligencer'

By Michael Cavna

As his newspaper faces its D-Day sale deadline today, Comic Riffs continues its interview with Seattle Post-Intelligencer editorial cartoonist DAVID HORSEY.

Horsey, who has the highly trafficked Web site through Hearst Corp., says he is ensured of keeping his cartooning job with the chain in some form -- even if the print P-I is shuttered in the days ahead.

Today, we talk with the two-time Pulitzer winner about the precariousness of being a newspaper cartoonist, the future of that industry -- and the hurdles of trying to cover the inauguration from the thick of the Mall crowds.

MICHAEL CAVNA: David, you've had about as much longevity at a single newspaper as most cartoonists in the business [since 1979]. How did your career there start out -- and to what do you attribute your career longevity in Seattle?
DAVID HORSEY: I feel like I've been very lucky. I didn't plan to be a cartoonist, and ... neither the [Seattle] Times nor the P-I had had an editorial cartoonist for decades. I graduated in journalism and went to work for a new suburban daily [Bellevue Journal-American] ... where I was doing a weekly column and illustrating it with cartoons. I ended up getting that syndicated around the state. Then through great chance -- or the greater purpose of the universe -- the man who was my professional adviser for my student newspaper ... became managing editor [of the P-I] and he didn't know anybody else in cartooning.

Looking back, I realize how incredibly lucky I was. The Times had Brian Bassett, and [Mike] Luckovich was at the University [of Washington] just a couple of years after I was [and couldn't get hired in the area]. It wasn't till later I realized that it all worked out pretty well for me.

The other plus was because I ended up being at the right paper. All my editors have been supportive. The Seattle Times has gone through three cartoonists [Bassett, Chris Britt and Eric Devericks] in the time I've been here.

MC: And now you say you've re-branded yourself as a "multimedia commentator." So, any other secrets to your longevity? Was it a matter of vision and planning?
DH: I always figured that I was one new editor away from unemployment. Clay Bennett is a great example [of a talented cartoonist who was ousted]. "KAL" in Baltimore is another prime example of that. I had that sense that things can go askew at any time. I've been attuned to the politics of the paper, and Hearst in general. I decided I needed to get to know the president of Hearst Newspapers. It helps.
Two Pulitzers also helps. I recommend that to anyone.

MC: So what's the future look like for newspaper political cartoonists at large?
DH: That's a good question. If political cartoonists continue to rely on newspapers, we may be in serious trouble. It's a very transferable form of journalism, though -- it works great on Web sites. Like my situation -- my work will still appear in some newspapers [if and when the print P-I closes], but my platform will be the Web site.
If cartoonists can leap ahead, then -- well, the trick is getting paid enough. As far as newspapers: If we're really lucky and dodge the Depression bullet, some newspapers will weather this.

MC: Some political cartoonists preach the "go local" approach as a strategy to save one's job. Do you subscribe to that?
DH: Look at Lee Judge [who was laid off in 2008 by the "Kansas City Star"]. He was the ultimate local cartoonist and he's out of a job. I'm skeptical of the "go local" approach to cartooning to preserve your job. The biggest response I got [last year] was to Obama and McCain cartoons. ... [Local cartoons] are worth doing, but not because it'll save a job. Ultimately, if they want to fire you, they will. It's the economic reality.

MC: Any thoughts or sentiments on how Hearst is handling this time of transition and the impending demise of the print P-I?
DH: I don't know how you can handle laying off people and closing a paper well. By definition, it's a cruel thing. ... But they've been very straight. They've handled it in a very businesslike way. It's an understandable step. Invariably, it messes up a lot of people's lives.

MC: Switching to national politics, you were in Washington for Inauguration Day. What was that like -- covering the events from D.C.?
DH: I think I psyched myself out. ... I tried to work live on the Mall during the [Inauguration], but it was too crowded to draw. I ended up having a miserable product from that day, but I stayed on for weeks, and the stimulus package became a recurring theme [that worked]. I enjoyed paying that much attention to it.

MC: So how do you like caricaturing President Obama so far, as well as satirizing his administration?
DH: He's actually pretty simple, in terms of drawing him. His long face, his thin body -- I've have no problem drawing him. But he's such a cool character, such a low-key character. Even if you're drawing a cartoon and exaggerating, you want to capture something true about the person. He's so even-tempered. ...

My cartoons are also becoming issue-oriented instead of personality-oriented. This new day is stimulating my creativity because I have to come up with [issue cartoons]. It's also tougher because the big story is economic. It's easy to do cliches. Most of these issues are far more complex. It's sophisticated [subject matter] for a cartoon -- but I strive to do it.

By Michael Cavna  | March 10, 2009; 11:30 AM ET
Categories:  Interviews With Cartoonists, The Political Cartoon  
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